Online, everything is equally available and relevance is not determined by where something is on a page but by what other people think of it. When you look at it from that perspective, you see that stuff that is deemed ‘good' builds its incoming links over time — that is, the longer it is out there, the more people link to it and the more people discover it.
Google and other search engines measure relevance on the basis of incoming links which will rank it higher and higher, and as a result it will appear higher and higher in search results and therefore get even more traffic. In a weird way, it completely inverts the calculus of news, which is that the new stuff is what matters and the old stuff doesn't matter — because the good old stuff gets more relevant over time as more people flag it and link to it.
I think it was a surprise to many people that search would be such a powerful driver of demand for news, especially when you consider that canonical search — the regular search rather than news search — doesn't even find stuff until a week or so after the fact because the spiders just take that long to find things. What you're realising is that people care much more about what's relevant than what's new.